Salmon and Steelhead Species in Washington
Salmon and steelhead have long played an important role in the ecology, economy and culture
of the Pacific Northwest, providing a source of food for humans and wildlife alike.
Unfortunately, many naturally spawning stocks are struggling to survive significant losses
in spawning and rearing habitat and other factors related to growth in the region's human
population over the past century.
There are five species of Pacific salmon in Washington - chinook, coho, chum, pink
and sockeye - all emerge from eggs and rear in freshwater, migrate to sea to feed,
then return to their natal waters to spawn. Scientists use the term "salmonid" to refer
to salmon, steelhead and anadromous trout species that share this anadromous lifecycle.
Oftentimes "salmon and steelhead" will be used as well as "salmon" to generally refer to
all salmon and steelhead species.
Each salmonid species is adapted to the natural conditions found in Washington rivers and
in the ocean. Salmon and steelhead are further divided into 486 known "populations," each a
scientifically designated, biologically distinct group of individuals (e.g., Lower Columbia
River Spring Chinook, Skagit River coho) adapted to specific streams, estuaries and
When thousands of mature salmon spawn and die, they do far more than produce another
generation. They also provide a source of nutrition, arriving in the fall, that allows
many animals to survive the harshness of winter. Where salmon runs have become extinct,
the local ecosystem suffers. Species such as bear, eagle, mink and river otter suffer
large population losses when salmon runs decline.
What Salmon need
Although the habitat requirements of each species of salmon and steelhead differ somewhat, all share some
common habitat needs to support life stage development (Spence et al. 1996).
Common habitat functions include:
- stable incubation environment (flow regime/water quantity),
- cool, well-oxygenated, unpolluted water (water quality),
- cover (habitat structure),
- sufficient sources of prey (food source), and
- unimpeded access to off-channel areas and saline waters (access).
How are Washington's Salmon and Steelhead doing?
In 1991, the federal government declared Snake River sockeye salmon as endangered.
In the next few years, 16 more geographically distinct subgroups (i.e., evolutionarily
significant units composed of several populations) of Chinook, coho, chum, and
sockeye salmon, as well as several steelhead groups, were listed as either
threatened or endangered. By 1999 75% of the state was covered by federal
listings of at-risk salmon.
Washington's 2010 State of the Salmon in Watershed Report provided an overview of which
salmon and steelhead populations are increasing, decreasing or showing no changes.
For status and information on specific populations in Washington you can click on each species of
"salmonid" below and get a listing of all the populations within that species name:
SalmonScape, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's interactive, computer mapping system, is one of the most
important tools created thus far to deliver scientific information to those involved in on-the-ground salmon recovery projects.
SalmonScape delivers the science that helps recovery planners identify and prioritize the restoration and protection activities
that offer the greatest benefit to fish. The site also offers a significant environmental education tool for the general public.
The SalmonScape System
merges fish and habitat data
collected by state, federal, tribal and local biologists and presents it in an integrated geographically enabled system
that can be readily accessed by other agencies and citizens.
The site features multi-layered maps containing information on fish stock distribution and status, juvenile fish monitoring,
habitat characteristics and stream blockages that impede fish passage. The various map views allow users to see data by
watershed, county boundary and user-defined areas. Data can be displayed against background images that include shaded
relief and aerial photos.
With SalmonScape, interested people can access an array of previously scattered data pertinent to salmon and fish habitat.
Selected map layers can be downloaded from the SalmonScape site and can be integrated with information collected and
managed by government, industry and citizens.